Chef Jim Johnston makes 160 homebound people happy every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the State College area. Johnston is the head chef at Meals on Wheels and creates delectable dishes with the meats and vegetables that he receives at minimal cost from the Food Bank of the State College Area or that are purchased from distributors. The Mifflintown native is an old-fashioned chef who has worked in the fine-dining kitchens of New York City, and he makes his dishes from scratch, utilizing what is available, and seasoning without salt.
“I don’t know how he does it,” said Meals on Wheels director Christine Tyler. “Everything he makes tastes so good.”
The volunteers last Wednesday were packing up hefty portions of venison Salisbury steak with a mushroom sauce served over rice, and accompanied by a bright chiffonade of spinach studded with tiny cubes of carrot. A colorful fruit salad with oranges and pineapple filled the other corner of the food tray before it was neatly shrink-wrapped for packing. The vegetarian option, a Spanish egg and potato tortilla, looked equally appealing — and generous. The “icing on the cake” for this delivery was that it was Wednesday and time for the weekly dessert. Slices of creamy cheesecake with a chocolate cookie crumb crust were packed out for delivery by the volunteers.
Operating from the commercial kitchen of Grace Lutheran Church, the huge community effort that is our own State College Meals on Wheels is on a roll. Four years ago the nonprofit that runs entirely on donations from individuals, clubs and churches completed a major renovation of the kitchen space and hired Dale Thomas as the lead chef. Thomas has since stepped into the background as kitchen manager and leaves most of the cooking, though not all of the clean up, to Johnston as the organization prepares to launch five-day-a-week delivery service in June. Currently the clientele receives one hot meal and one boxed supper — of sandwich or salad — three times a week. Daily deliveries will amp up the effort.
“Our volunteer base will have to grow,” explained Tyler, who took over as director a year and a half ago, after longtime executive director Anna Carol Buffington stepped down. “With time commitments of two and a half hours a week, there are lots of slots to fill — but there is a volunteer that manages that.”
Their big fundraising event is the annual dinner, “A Meal that Matters,” that brings together the community and raises funds through silent and live auctions to support the year-round food delivery mission. This year’s dinner will take place on May 14 and Coach James Franklin will be the guest speaker.
State College Meals on Wheels is a part of a nation-wide MOW network of more than 5,000 independently run local programs. Food security for seniors is at the heart of the program, though the SCMOW serves anyone who is house bound and unable to prepare meals in their home due to physical or mental health issues. Age and income levels are irrelevant. Clients pay on a sliding scale, if they can pay at all, that ranges from $1 to $6 per delivery.
Special dietary needs are taken into consideration and there are meals tailored to be suitable for diabetics, renal patients, and for those with allergies to gluten or dairy. A highly evolved color-coded delivery chart guarantees that the right meal is packed for the right route and delivered to the right person. Delivery drivers are accompanied by a runner, who hands the food to the client and provides a friendly smile and link with the outside world, perhaps the only one of the day for the homebound client.
For more information about State College Meals on Wheels, check out their website, www.scmow.org. There is a sign up link for volunteers as well as a link to apply to receive the meals. Check out their Facebook page www.facebook.com/scmealsonwheels and “Like” them. Or if you really like them, attend “A Meal that Matters” (for info call, 360-6571) or make a contribution during the upcoming Centre Gives, a 36-hour charity event that runs this from 6 a.m. May 5 through 6 pm. May 6.